Tuesday, January 29, 2019

'Happy Days' memories: An interview with actor Richard Kuller

Richard Kuller on Happy Days in 1974; inset: Richard as he looks today.

The "R.O.T.C." episode of Happy Days
Recently, it has been my great pleasure to co-host a podcast called These Days Are Ours, devoted to the nostalgic 1974-84 sitcom Happy Days starring Henry Winkler and Ron Howard as fun-loving teens in 1950s Milwaukee. Each Tuesday, my cohost and I review another episode of the classic show, thoroughly breaking down the plot, themes, and characters. Here's our latest installment.

Along the way, I've been doing some research into Happy Days, learning how it was made and delving into the careers of the people who made it happen. That includes the many fine actors who guest starred on the series, lending to their talents to an episode or two before moving on. This week, I had the privilege of conducting an online interview with one such performer, Richard Kuller, who appeared in the episodes "R.O.T.C." and "Kiss Me Sickly" in 1974 and 1975, respectively. Richard's other TV and film credits include CPO Sharkey, Copacabana, and Danger Team. He currently teaches theater and dance in California.

Here is our conversation. Richard was very cooperative in answering my nerdy questions about Happy Days, for which I am very grateful.

Had you heard of or watched Happy Days before appearing on it? I ask because the show was fairly new then. 
Yes. I had also done children’s theater in New York before that, with Henry Winkler. 
My guess is that the marching scenes in "R.O.T.C." were filmed away from the Paramount lot, probably at a college or high school with a football stadium. Do you remember where this was? 
It was at a high school, but I don’t remember which one. Those were real ROTC classes marching on the field. Henry was not called that day, although he did appear in the episode. 
Director Jerry Paris
Any particular memories of the cast or director Jerry Paris?

He was a very funny man, and he razzed me, since it was my first time on the show. He told me it was a tradition that I was to pay him a dollar. I thought he was joking and didn’t pay him. He confronted me on the field in front of everyone and demanded my lunch money, which was a few bucks. I pulled the envelope out of my uniform, and the money fell on the ground. He picked it up and plucked out a dollar. snapped it between his hands, and put it in his pocket. I never knew if this was a real tradition or he was just singling me out.
How did you come to audition for Happy Days? Did you audition for a lot of shows? 
I had a very good commercial agent and was doing well with him. I think one of the casting agents (they didn’t call them casting directors then) for the commercials got me into a reading for Happy Days, but I don’t remember the reading. I was doing a lot of theater at the time, but not getting many opportunities to read for television shows. 
Did you get recognized after appearing on the show? 
Only by friends who already knew me. That didn’t surprise me. I wore glasses and a big cap In that episode. 
Did you get residuals for your episode? 
I still get a couple of bucks every year. 
Did Happy Days help you land a part on CPO Sharkey? Maybe because the producers had already seen you in a military-type comedy?  
No, that was just another recommendation through my commercial agent. I came into that pilot after the cast was already in rehearsal and had bonded. I never did anymore after the pilot. 
You appeared on Happy Days again the very next year. Was that a good experience?  
It was not. My alarm clock failed and I was late for the call. This is a terrible no no. Different director [George Tyne], and he was pissed. When I arrived his only acknowledgment was, "Do you understand your jokes?" I said yes and was thrown into the scene. I didn’t blame him, but his attitude was he just wanted to get the scene done. I remember that Ron Howard, whom I had helped with his marching in the ROTC episode, was friendly. He was always a gentleman. Henry was Fonzie through and through and simply did not want to let me into that bathroom. When I saw the episode, I thought the tension in the situation actually worked well for the scene. 
Did you have any real-life experience with ROTC?  
No. I was able to pick up the marching because I am a dancer, and dancers are trained to pick up steps. 
Are there are any current projects you'd like to promote?  
I have been a teacher of theater and dance at two community colleges for the last 17 years. In that time I have not sought any acting work. In the spring I am directing and choreographing a production of You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown at Glendale Community college in California.  
Thanks for answering all these questions. I know it's a lot at once. 
That's OK. It was fun to reminisce. 
And thank you for your time. 
You're welcome.